Quilts of Gee’s Bend

Ah, the beauty of a Gee’s Bend quilt.  Gee’s Bend is in Boykin, Alabama.  The Alabama River has a large bend in Boykin which is the place of origin of the Gee’s bend quilts.  The residents of Gee’s Bend are the descendants of slaves of the plantation started by Joseph Gee.  I urge you to look up the story about the residents of Gee’s Bend and how they survived in this mostly isolated community.  In the mid 60’s many of the residents were began taking the ferry to the county seat of Camden to register to vote.  In reaction to this, local authorities eliminated the ferry service forcing the people of Gee’s Bend to drive more than an hour to conduct business.  Ferry service was not restored to Gee’s bend until 2006.

The quilts were part of mid 1960’s Freedom Quilting Bee, part of the Civil Rights Movement.  The purpose of the program was to assist families to increase their income by selling handcrafts to outsiders.  Eventually outsiders began to really take notice of the quilts as the beautiful, unique artform that they were.  They were on the cover of The New Yorker and them were placed on exhibition traveling about the country.  The quilts were shown at many museums, including the Smithsonian.

What can you say about a Gee’s Bend quilt?   Beautiful, minimalist, dramatic, simplistic, complex, raw, brilliant, abstract, modern, inspiring.  Take a look at what was born from the isolation of a piece of land almost surrounded by water.  Eight miles wide by five miles long.  Approximately 750 people there today descended from slaves.  From this tiny piece of land came forth a style of quilting like no other in the world.

Looking at a Gee’s bend quilt you can see the organic ature of the quilt.  The pieces were cut with scissors or perhaps by tearing.  No rotary cutter involved.  I don’t know but I would guess that there were no patterns made for these quilts.  They appear to have been instinctively improvised.  What does this all say to me?  It says that I can do whatever I want in my own quilt creations.  I can put together whatever shapes, whatever colors I choose.  I can just use whatever fabric I have, without buying new and coordinated.  A Gee’s Bend says to me that there are no rules.  I can do what I want.  It doesn’t have to be straight and perfect to be beautiful.  I can relax and enjoy the making of a quilt in my own way.  My quilt can be like no other quilt in the world.  So can yours.  So if you choose to learn how to quilt, read, learn and absorb what you can from others while cultivating your own unique style.


Housetop Quilt

















So.  Feel inspired yet?


As described byWikipedia, “Boro are a class of Japanese textiles that have been mended or patched together.  The term is derived Japanese boroboro, meaning something tattered or repaired.”  Those of us interested in sewing and recycling would benefit from familiarizing ourselves with technique of boro.  Vintage pieces of boro can be found on the internet.  I sometimes browse EBay or Etsy just to look at boro.  Japanese women of long ago would mend the futon covers and the family’s clothes, as would women all over the world.  But boro, a method of keeping the family warm and clothed and making do with very little is today coveted by collectors.  The boro that I drool over on the internet is so valuable today that I can only look and not buy.

I don’t need to buy any boro and I am not a collector of antique textiles.  But I can learn some lessons from sewers of the past.  Women of long ago learned how to make every piece of fabric count.  Nothing went to waste.  We see this in beautiful antique American quilts.  When you look quilts from the past, you also see pieces of the shirts that her husband wore.  A piece of the dress that she sewed for her daughter. The tiniest snippet of fabric would have been stitched onto the boro or the quilt instead of wasting it.  People couldn’t afford to waste.  Pieces of the sewer’s life are stitched to that blanket or that boro.  Hemp was widely used in Japan.  Holes were covered with patches.  Layers of fabric was added for warmth.  Stitching was added for strength.  Sashiko stitching is uniquely Japanese.  It was functional and decorative.  Sashiko is seen on boro.  Try to look at some sashiko.  It’s really beautiful and not hard to do.  (I’ve done it.)

We should all take a look at some boro for inspiration.  We can both recycle and create a thing of beauty.  We can stitch our own family’s history into a blanket, or just mend a pair of blue jeans.   When I get a chance to learn about sewing styles of the past, of any culture, I soak it in.  My project doesn’t have to look exactly the same, but I allow myself to be influenced.  What came before us was quite beautiful.  Let’s incorporate it where we can in our own sewing.  We’ll be the richer for it.







The Green Project


The Green Project is the place where our sewing classes will be held.  We had our first class earlier this month.  It really was a pleasure so we’ve decided to try to make it a monthly event.  The Green Project is a center for donating and buying building materials, paint, cabinets, just about anything you could think of.  The Green Project’s mission is to reduce and reuse for the purpose of decreasing our impact on the environment.  Happily, this helps many to find the materials they need for making those home improvements without paying those huge prices that come with buying new.  Learning how to sew is another way to use what you have.  We can use recycled fabrics when we can, or we can buy new fabric and make what we desire for a fraction of the price of buying the item outright.  Being green while sewing is not that hard.  We can deconstruct old clothes to make new clothes.  I have used tee shirts to make children clothes.  Old blue jeans can be used to make many things.  Vintage bedsheets are my absolute fabric recycled into new projects.  Even painting drop cloths can be used for curtains, table cloths, chair covers, and can be stenciled or painted.  Old sweaters can be made into beautiful pillows.  Use your imagination, or search the internet for lots of great ideas.  Pinterest is one of my favorite sites for gathering ideas.  Going forward will be an adventure of creating and recycling.  So anyone in the New Orleans area, please join us at The Green Project located at 2831 Marais Street.

Fabric Tray

Today I made fabric trays.  I’m going to bring these to The Green Project for our sewing classes.  Sewers can use these next to their sewing machines to keep little notions in.  They are quick and easy to make.  They would be great at home to keep jewelry, make up, what ever.   I must say that this is not my original idea.  Like most things, I got the idea from Pinterest.  I looked at these at some other blogs to see how I wanted to make mine.  I tried instructions to stitch together the two layers of fabric and one layer of heavy duty interfacing.  But I found it difficult turning the whole thing right side out with interfacing that stiff.  So I sewed the two layers right sides together, turned them inside out, then slipped the interfacing in between the the two layers of fabric.  The trick is to cut the interfacing a half an inch smaller than the fabric.   


Cut two pieces of fabric of the same size.  I decided that I wanted the bottoms to be 6″x10″.  I added two inches for each side and a half an inch for seam allowance.  That made my cuts 8.5″x12.5″.


Pin with right sides together.


Sew together 1/4″ from the edge.  Notice the foot.  It’s 1/4″ foot.  It is usually used in quilting to stitch pieces together.  Quilt pieces are traditionally done with a 1/4″ seam allowance.  The seam allowance is how far from the edge that you will sew. I love this foot.


Clip the corners, very close to the stitching without cutting stitches.  This reduces the bulk of fabric in the corners making it easier to have nice, crisp corners.


Turn right side out.  Use a point turner or what ever you happen to have such as a chop stick or knitting needle to push the corners out.


Iron it all down nice and flat.


Here is the opening you left.


Roll up your interfacing and work it in between your layers.  Get every thing all smoothed out.


Iron it all down again.  If you have used fusible interfacing, ironing will adhere it to the fabric.  I used both fusible and non usable.  The fusible does give a smoother look, but it is a lot more expensive. Take it back to the sewing machine and stitch the opening closed.  Make sure that the interfacing is tucked inside.  Continue sewing all around your rectangle.



Use a ruler to fold back two inches on each side towards the inside.


Use your point turner or a wooden spoon, anything to make a crease on each side.  You can use your iron to press it down.


Pinch each corner, pulling the two adjacent sides together.  Take needle and thread to tack these sides together.  I used six strands of embroidery thread, but anything will do.


Here, the corner is stitched.  Nothing fancy.  Do this on each corner and shape them with your fingers.  I like to push the points up against the corner.


Here is my little assembly line.  Come to our next class at The Green Project and you can use one while we sew.  If you guys want to make one in class, we make that one of our future classes.  See you on Marais Street!





Rotary Cutters

A rotary cutter is great tool to have in your sewing space but it cannot be used alone.  What it is, is a rolling blade that must be held against an acrylic ruler, on top of a self healing mat.  All of this is especially useful for making very straight cuts in one or multiple layers of fabric.  There is no better way to make accurate cuts for quilting.  This is the easiest way to make a very long cut across a large piece of fabric while ensuring a nice clean, straight cut.  These tools are not cheap.  The cheapest way to get these are with coupons at fabric stores, or on Amazon.  They do last a very long time.  The mat has a self healing property which maintains the surface after running the blade over it many times.  These mats are not meant for Xacto knives.  The rulers are acrylic and easily stand up to the rotary blades withoutnicks.  The rulers are also clear with rules lines in both directions.  The mat is also rules.  The only ongoing expense with all of this are the rotary blades.  I try to buy these with coupons.  There’s nothing like a nice sharp blade slicing through your fabric.  I love these tools.  I would rather change the blade in my rotary cutter than the one I use to shave my legs.


Rotary cutter, mat and ruler.


The blade is retractable.  Always retract the blade when not in use.  It is razor sharp.


I’ve got a few of these.

See how straight that edge is!  One more note about rotary cutters.  When you occasionally cut yourself, and you will, immediately move away from the fabric.  You’ll be bleeding, but back away and go directly to the bathroom and apply a sufficient amount of band aids.  When you are free of blood, go to your fabric and inspect it for any blood.  If you have blood on your fabric use hydrogen peroxide to remove it.  Unless you are sewing a Halloween costume.  After all of that work you don’t want your lovely fabric to be stained with blood droppings.


An Iron

I don’t think that one could properly sew without an iron.  Ironing your fabric before sewing makes everything easier.  It’s difficult to pin two pieces of fabric together if they are terribly wrinkled.  Ironing your seams is a good habit to develop.  Your projects will be easier to sew and look so much better.  The pieces fit together better.  Corners are crisper.  Edges are sharper.  When trying to sew very fine soft fabric, I will use a little spray starch to stiffen it.  This makes it easier to handle.  To be more correct, what you actually want to be doing is pressing.  Pressing is lifting the iron to move it and pressing it down on the desired spot.  Ironing is sliding the iron back and forth.  Ironing can cause the fabric to shift under the iron.  If you iron a square, the square may become slightly askew.  If you press the square it won’t move under the iron.  It’s not life or death, just a tip.  You also want to pay attention to the settings on the iron.  The iron will tell you which setting to use.  You just need to know what kind of fabric you are ironing.  Cottons and other natural fibers can take high heat. Synthetics can take lower heat, but briefly.  It’s best to use a press cloth with synthetics to prevent scorching.  The fabric store will be happy to sell you one, but I just use a piece of cotton fabric.  You would place the cotton fabric between the iron and fabric you are pressing.  Some synthetics really can’t be ironed.  They just melt.  You’ll know very quickly.  Using a press cloth with low heat and minimal time you should be okay.

Any iron will do.  It can be fifty years old.  If it properly heats up, that’s good enough.  My only suggestion about irons is to have one with automatic shut off.  You don’t want to forget the iron on and go to bed. It’s easy to do.  Even if nothing bad happens you’ve wasted a lot of electricity.  This iron is a cordless iron.  There is a base that it sits on.  When the iron cools off it must be returned to the base to heat up.  I love not having the cord in the way, especially since my ironing space is away from the wall and outlet.  But I don’t think I would like this for ironing clothes.  The iron would most likely cool off too quickly for that kind of ironing.  Thank God I don’t iron clothes.  If my clothes are too wrinkled to wear it means that they need another five minutes in the dryer.  I’m certainly not my mother who irons the clothes that she wears to walk around the track.  That’s crazy.  img_1635

Seam Ripper

A seam ripper.  The sword of the seamstress. It’s really not a weapon, but a very useful little tool. If you sew, you are going to make mistakes.  I’m not just talking about those learning mistakes that we all make and learn from. Sometimes even a seasoned sewer will have a mental lapse. I can tell myself to make sure that I have right sides together, then proudly holding my fabric up to admire my fine stitching only to realize that one piece is backwards. Ugh!  The ripper is never far away,  on the ready to unsew what I’ve just sewn.  Okay, I’ve learned this already. I didn’t have to learn it again. Maybe I should learn not to look at Brad Pitt on TV as I sew.

A seam ripper is used by either sliding the point under a stitch to cut it, or by sliding the the little fork between the two layers of fabric cutting the stitches as you go. It doesn’t take much time to get the hang of this since the opportunity to do so is fairly regular.  I should have a Ph.D. In seam ripping by now. But now I realize that it’s just a part of sewing and have a more meditative approach to the process.

This is my newest ripper. It has an ergonomic grip. I think they even come with a little flashlight on them.  My eyes aren’t that bad and for sure I won’t be ripping if the power goes out.  Be careful with these as they are pretty sharp.

http://youtu.be/-QzJo16Zre8.   This is a short video I found on YouTube on how to use a seam ripper. 


Basting is temporary stitching to hold things in place until you are ready to stitch it down permanently.  Sometimes your pieces may want to shift on you as you try to stitch them together with a less than desirable result.  Times to use basting could be sewing in sleeves, collars, or zippers.  Quilters will baste before actually quilting.  ( I cheat and use spray baste for my quilts.)  A basting stitch can be done either by hand or machine.  When I say by hand, I mean with an old fashioned needle and thread.  This stitch can be done fairly quick, even by hand, but it can be done in seconds on the sewing machine.  A basting stitch is nothing more than a very long straight stitches.  In embroidery this would be called a running stitch, but it wouldn’t be made as long.  On the sewing machine, you would simply set your machine to the straight stitch, but on the longest stitch setting.

After you have completed your regular stitching, the basting stitch is removed.  It’s quite easy to remove the basting since the stitches are so large.  You probably wouldn’t even backstitch when basting.    Notice in the picture on the right that the sewer is taking several bites of the fabric at one time.  This is done by rocking the tip of the needle up and down, moving in and out of the fabric.  But honestly, most of my basting is done by machine.  That’s it.


I really love scissors. A pair of scissors are one of those tools that a sewer just can’t do without. I can’t get enough of them. My dear husband learned how much I care about my scissors during the first year of our marriage.  I happen to find him cutting an air conditioning filter with my best pair of sewing scissors.  He never touched my scissors again. We have been happily married for twenty five years.

Your sewing box should have one nice pair of scissors for cutting your fabric. I don’t mean the most expensive scissors in the store, but a decent pair.   My personal favorite are Fiskars brand. They are lightweight and comfortable to grip. I buy the ones with the spring action. I have small hands, with a little bit of arthritis in them. These scissors make cutting fabric a breeze. Then you should also have a pair of cheap every day scissors for cutting patterns. You never want to use your good fabric scissors to cut paper, or air conditioner filters, if you want them to stay nice and sharp.   Sewing scissors are generally eight to ten inches long.

This all you really need to begin sewing. There are many types of specialty scissors with different purposes. I have some of them that I have collected over the years. I basically have some kind of scissors in every part of the house.  As you begin cutting a beautiful piece of fabric with your favorite pair of scissors, you will quickly realize that you cannot live without them.